By Trip Styler, on July 13, 2016

Hotel hacks: What NOT to buy at hotels

I know, you know, and your mom knows there’s certain “forbidden fruit” in hotels—think: Imported French water or small-batch Swiss chocolate—that’s best not to pick! If you’ve ever looked at a hotel bill with googly eyes realizing you shouldn’t have indulged in the minibar’s artisan gummy bears at 1 a.m, or ordered steak tartare from room service, you know what I’m talking about!

Don’t get tempted by chic candies, mini bottles of bubbly, or the charms of room service. Here are six items savvy travelers never buy at hotels (because they’ve all learned the hard way).

1. Water

Many hotels around the world—especially those in places it’s not safe to drink the water—provide bottled water at no extra charge to guests, however, in America and Canada, it’s different. Since most of the tap water is drinkable, fancy liquids are a huge “profit center” for hotels. Therefore, that big, shiny Evian or from-a-nearby-alkaline-aquifer water sitting on the credenza or in the minibar will cost up to US$10 (that’s US$1 per sip).

The alternative: Don’t fall for the water trick! If you must drink from a bottle, bring a few of your own, and reroute that $10 to a bev (or two) at the hotel’s happy hour.

2. Anything in the minibar

Believe it or not, some hotels I’ve been to include a “raid the minibar” allowance in the room rate—bless them!—yet the vast majority avoid this perk. Furthermore, many properties are getting smart with what’s on offer in their mini-fridges-of-glory. Gone are the days of Pringles and Snickers. Nowadays I’ve been seeing everything from single-origin chocolate to craft cocktails. While these items are oh-so-tempting, just say no—you don’t even want to see the exorbitant price tag!

The alternative: Curb your snack-attack while you’re out and about, or bring a few treats of your own for any sudden cravings. 

3. Valet parking

There’s a 50 percent chance your hotel will have both valet and self-parking options, but there’s a 100 percent chance you’ll pay upwards of US$50 for the night if you don’t ask. Sure, it’s convenient and chic to valet your vehicle, but if you want to save between US$20–45 a night, always find out what the hotel and local parking options are before deciding where to park. Once you pull up to the front of a hotel, many properties offer a complimentary 15-minute “unload and get situated” period. Use this time to consider and research your options.   

The alternative: When staying at a city hotel, determine what the hotel’s self-park or nearby parking options will cost. For resorts, it can be a touch more tricky as many stays tend to build parking into their mandatory resort fees. With this, confirm what type of parking is included before or while you check-in, so you can buy a nice bottle of wine with your potential savings.

Viewfinder Tip: Sometimes extras are included (think: the spa’s steam and sauna, bikes, or fresh-baked cookies). Read the fine-print to determine what’s complimentary and what’ll cost you.

4. Internet

These days it’s rare for Wi-Fi not to be included—and, you can search hotels by “included Wi-Fi” filters. However, if you end up at a hotel with cyberspace fees stuck in 1999, you still have options beyond paying US$20/day to connect.

The alternative: If the Wi-Fi fee is ridiculous or there’s a cap on how many devices can join the network, tether from your smartphone to you computer, join the loyalty program (many of which offer free internet as a perk), hit up a nearby Starbucks, or wait to post that Instagram as a “latergram.”

5. Sundry store basics

I love a well-curated hotel store—I’m looking at you Four Seasons Resort Lana’i and The Modern Honolulu—and have one too many garments to prove it! But, there’s a big difference between buying something local or unique, and purchasing sunscreen or aloe gel from the sundry store when there’s a drug store down the road. Hotels often charge extra for basics people may have forgotten.

The alternative: If your budget doesn’t allow overnighting at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts (which include poolside sunscreen), bring a Ziploc bag filled with extras you might run out of, or need in a pinch, such as eye drops, sunscreen, or dry shampoo. If you forgot something ultra-basic like toothpaste or earplugs, call housekeeping to see if they can deliver it to your room at no charge. 

6. Room service

Sometimes it’s fun to order room service, though it’s important you’re fully aware of the extra expenses that can “garnish” your dish. Between the convenience-factor fees and mandatory tip, a basic chicken caesar salad can often run you approximately US$40.

Once I ordered two breakfasts, cappuccinos, and juices for my husband and I at a boutique hotel in Las Vegas. The bill was US$100! Yes, it was beautifully presented. Yes, it was luxe to dine in my fluffy robe. But no, the four-pancake moment was not worth that much money.

The alternative: Many hotels in Asia, South America, and Europe include a hearty breakfast in the nightly rate. If you’re staying in North America, consider local restaurants instead of room service, or book an all-inclusive, and/or swish stay like Grand Velas in Riviera Maya or Puerto Vallarta, which includes white-glove room service in your rate.

Want more hotel hacks? Check out our series:
Etiquette Rules for guests
7 ways to MAXimize your stay as a hotel guest
7 hacks for booking the perfect hotel room in Vegas

How do you save money at hotels?